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East Texas Heroes: Don Collins

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Marine Sergeant Don Collins served in the South Pacific during World War II. Collins' little brother enlisted first and their mother wanted Don Collins to go too to keep an eye on him.

The machine gunner saw some fierce battles as Marines landed on Japanese-controlled islands across the South Pacific.  He fought for 5 hours after landing in Peleliu.  He had gunshot and mortar wounds to his arm and leg and he was fading fast.  "I knew if I didn't get out I wouldn't last very long," he said.

The 22-year-old Marine and the surviving member of his squad were taking shelter in a cave on the beach in Peleliu.  Collins had saved the 17-year-old Marine next to him and he was safe in the cave. But Collins had to get help or he wouldn't survive himself. The injured Marine crawled to an evacuation station 400 yards down the beach. "I passed out on the way out.  Next thing I knew I was in a basket and they were lifting me onto the hospital ship," he told us.

The doctors saved Collins' leg and arm but others weren't so lucky. Many people lost limbs. And the memory of one particular Marine is still too hard for Collins to shake.  "He was screaming don't take my eyes, and they had a bandage around his eyes, and I didn't see what happened after that," he told us.

The damage done by Japanese soldiers was all around him and he saw many burials at sea. The bodies of once strong, young Marines were consigned to the cold, dark Pacific.

He was taken to Guadalcanal to recover.  But soon he had another challenge ahead of him. The Battle of Okinawa would be one of the bloodiest of World War II. Collins survived the landing but the battle raged for weeks as Marines fought to secure the island.  The southern half proved to be the toughest.  Collins said, "we didn't take our clothes off, didn't take our shoes off nothing for 16 days. All we did was fight and push."

One day he was making sure an area was free of Japanese soldiers after a firefight when he spotted a U.S. Marine alive among the bodies. He said, "I went back and told the captain we had Marine out there and we needed to go get him."

Collins laid down a spray of machine gun fire to cover a crew as they went out to retrieve the wounded Marine.  Collins said, "he was one of my own men and I didn't even know it. He was a fella by the name of Stein."

There was a hole in his neck where he'd been shot.  "I could see the air going in and out. So I put my hand over his neck where the hole...feel the the air. I said Stein, hold on, hold on, hold on we're going to get you out of here."

Stein survived.  Collins said, "he wrote me a nice letter to thank me for saving his life. He was a young fella. He was younger than the rest of us."

He was young, like Collins' little  brother.  "Young fellas, they didn't even have a chance in life. They fought for their country, they gave their life."

Collins found out later that the 17-year-old Marine he saved in the cave died in battle. And all that loss still breaks his heart. He said, "these fellas, you get to know them and love them like brothers and it's hard because every time you hit you know you're going to lose some."

But in those times he turned to his faith.  "While we were fighting we were fighting for ourselves but also for each other," Collins told us, "and prayed that we would always be faithful to each other."

He lived by the motto Semper Fi, and he was always faithful to his brothers in arms, his family and his country. And that's what makes Marine Sergeant Don Collins an East Texas Hero.

Collins' little brother Hilary ended up serving as an air mechanic in the Philippines and he survived the war.  When Collins left the service he ended up becoming a pastor and spent years dedicating himself to helping other people through his faith.
   

 

 

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